14 August 2016

"God Is Good" Khanga Dress


Mungu ni mwema kwa watu wake.

For the past several months, I have been praying that God would send African families to our intercultural church.  We have people from all over the world, but we didn't have any families from the continent of Africa. It felt like our church family was missing something.



I miss living in Africa. I miss it every day.  Living in Sudan and my visits to Kenya were some of the best times of my life, and I miss the hospitality and people-centered, relaxed pace.  I miss the joyful dancing and complex clap-rhythms at the churches we attended.  I miss tea time when we just sat, enjoying being with each other without feeling a need to do anything but sip.


My town is about 90-95% white, so when three new families moved to our town from Congo and Kenya and have come to our church in just the past two weeks... I can hardly chalk it up to coincidence.  It has been amazing to hear their stories of trial as refugees fleeing violence in their home countries, yet their faces glow with joy and hope, each one saying over and over, "I don't know how, but God has taken care of our family. He is a good father."

I also prayed, silly as it may sound, for a "real life" sewing friend to talk to. (Hey, God cares.) I don't know anyone else that makes clothing, and it makes for a lot of alone time sewing in my own home.  Lo and behold, when I asked one of the ladies that just moved here from Kenya what she did for work back home, she replied, "I am a designer, and I make clothes."



Um....... YES.  God just made a two-for-one prayer answer right there, and now I have a lovely new friend to talk sewing with!

I wore this dress made of a Tanzanian khanga last night to church, and my new sewing friend and I had a conversation about how to work with the thin, loose-weave khanga fabric and our techniques of lining dresses to make them opaque.  It was a beautiful thing!


A khanga is a traditional East African fabric worn in a wrap skirt style.  This particular khanga is from Tanzania, and I wore it in a traditional style in this previous post.  Khanga skirts are rectangular panels printed with bold designs on cotton fabrics, often featuring a proverb or wise saying at the bottom in Swahili.  I was given two panels of this blue and navy design, and I hadn't cut them apart in hopes that someday I'd make them into a dress inspired by this 1950s khanga dress.  The day has come!

I franken-patterened THREE different sewing patterns together to make this dress.  I used McCall's 5517 for the bodice (a 1960s pattern), Simplicity 3851 for the skirt (1940s), and Sew-Rite 8762 (1940s/50s) for the pocket details.  I've worked with all of these patterns before, so I was able to do a quick muslin of the bodice to turn it into a button-up style with a collar and adjust the shoulders a bit, and I was good to go!


I took a whole evening to very carefully lay out my pattern pieces for the best pattern placement using the angles and not-perfectly-straight printing on the khanga.  This is what it looks like in its original form:


I managed to get the proverbs directly in the center of the skirt and finagle all the other pieces to line up in aesthetically pleasing ways.  I do have a bit of a flower-boob look going on at the bodice... but I think with the print spaced the way it is, it was pretty unavoidable.  I'm just rolling with it.

It all went together fairly easily.  I underlined the shifty, loosely woven khanga in bleached muslin.  I interfaced the collar and sewed its edge to follow the print like on the vintage khanga dress for some added detail.  It all went together relatively easily until I went to attach the bodice to the skirt and add the side zipper...

The side seams didn't line up.

The bodice side seams were about 1" further back than the skirt side seams.  I attempted to switch the back and front skirt pieces, but then the pocket pieces didn't fit on correctly.  Lacking in any extra fabric and getting a bit desperate... I came up with a creative way to make it work.  I cut a slit in the skirt behind its side seam to line up with the bodice side seam.  I attached a placket, sewed the bodice to the skirt, and painstakingly inserted a zipper.  I didn't have enough fabric to perfectly match the placket  pattern to the skirt... but it's still a pretty darn good blend, I think.  It does the job!


Besides that, everything went according to plan.  The bodice was made up and I added clear buttons down the front.  I did a 2" deep, blind hem and carefully matched the pattern at the various seams.  I absolutely love how it's turned out!


Once again, this dress is me-ish.  A Western cut with a bit of East African style!  

Mungu ni mwema kwa watu wake.
God is good to his people.

10 August 2016

1930s Fixer Upper Dress

Flashback Summer: 1930s Fixer Upper - make do and mend dress

Flashback Summer: 1930s Fixer Upper - make do and mend dress

The vintage community is fantastic.  This dress was a gift from a fellow blogger, and I was delighted to find it was very close to my size already!  (A rare occurrence.)  It needed a couple mends and a bath in some Retro Clean to brighten up the white sections on the bow print and remove yellowing and age spots.  All I needed to do to make it my size was to shorten the straps a bit, and voila!  It fits!

Flashback Summer: 1930s Fixer Upper - make do and mend dress

Flashback Summer: 1930s Fixer Upper - make do and mend dress

Flashback Summer: 1930s Fixer Upper - make do and mend dress

I LOVE this dress.  I'm so grateful to the Stephanie for giving it to me!  It's a lovely, flowy crepe rayon, and I like the colors of the abstract bow print.  The length and cut seem, to me, to say this is a 1930s dress, but it's a pretty simple design that may be 40s, too.  I also like the "make do" style of the dress.  The gray-blue fabric at the top is a completely different color than dress print, but it just seems to go.  The straps are also a mix of a normal wide strap and cap sleeve in how it fits, very interesting!

Flashback Summer: 1930s Fixer Upper - make do and mend dress

Flashback Summer: 1930s Fixer Upper - make do and mend dress

Flashback Summer: 1930s Fixer Upper - make do and mend dress

I paired the dress with my brown 40s heels, a brown wool hat, a crocheted purse, and my Egyptian cross choker.  I also happened to have a good hair day, and that is always a huge plus.

What do you think?  Is it a 1930s or 40s dress? Any ideas?

08 August 2016

Basic Sewing Win

Flashback Summer: 1940s White button down blouses - vintage button up shirt

After working on this pattern and making several versions of it (you can my first, second, third, and fourth versions in previous posts), I have finally perfected this pattern!  It is Simplicity 4762, and I am happy to say it is the first pattern I have completely and utterly conquered.  It fits perfectly, and I've made it up so many times now that I don't need instructions and I've figured out the best, most efficient way to sew it up.  


Flashback Summer: 1940s White button down blouses - vintage button up shirt

I especially love this blouse because it has pleats and darts at the waist... and that's it.  There are no darts for the bust area.  It is a looser fit, but I like the lack of darts because it allows me to switch between vintage and modern shaped bras and the blouse still looks right.  Not to mention the loose fit is entirely 1940s, since they seemed to have more ease in their tops than we prefer these days.


Flashback Summer: 1940s White button down blouses - vintage button up shirt

I love this blouse so much, in fact, that in addition to the three versions I've shown here on my blog, I also made three others to use as work blouses.  My job requires a white shirt with a collar, so this pattern worked perfectly.  However, I made the blouses out of a cheaper bleached muslin just to get me by when I started the job and was transitioning from office wear.  They have since been washed and worked in repeatedly and are starting to look raggedy.  


Flashback Summer: 1940s White button down blouses - vintage button up shirt

So, when I went to my grandma's house for vacation a couple weeks ago I recruited her to help me!  My grandma started sewing after she got married to make things for her kids, and she is brilliant at what I call "factory sewing," or sewing lots of one thing all at once.  I cut out pieces for four work blouses, and she and I finished them in about a day by working together.  When one of us sewed, the other would press, and when one of us was better and doing a certain part of the garment, we'd work on that part while the other person prepped the next step.  It worked wonderfully!


Flashback Summer: 1940s White button down blouses - vintage button up shirt

Since I'm a bit of a rebel and need SOME sort of variety in my clothing,  I did little tweaks to make each blouse unique.  (This is a great tip if you have wardrobe guidelines at your job like I do.  Just work in what you can to make pieces unique.)  I chose fun buttons for each in completely different colors.  I made three short-sleeved and one long-sleeved for the heck of it.  I also did a double collar and contrast cuffs on one of the shirts in gray to coordinate with its pewter-colored buttons.


Flashback Summer: 1940s White button down blouses - vintage button up shirt

This was also my first time working with Kona cotton... and I see what all the fuss is about.  It's much thicker and more opaque than other cottons I've worked with, which makes it lovely for white blouses.  (With skin-colored undergarments they don't require an undershirt for modesty.)  It's great to work with and it doesn't wrinkle much when I wear them.  My job has a lot of moving and lifting, so that's an impressive thing!


Flashback Summer: 1940s White button down blouses - vintage button up shirt

The last adjustment I made to this pattern since my last version was to increase the armscye just a tiny bit.  I did a flex-sleeve pattern hack the Boyer Sisters shared on their blog to help me with arm mobility at my job (lifting, like I said), and it has made a huge difference.  I rounded out the tutorial's suggested armscye shape to avoid a sharp corner under the arm, and now I have full range of movement and my shirt stays tucked all day!  I absolutely love it, and now other sleeves feel positively constricting.  I don't think I'll sew a normal one ever again.

You'll be seeing these blouses again.  There's nothing like a crisp, white shirt!

Do you have any work wardrobe requirements?  How do you work with them to still express your personal style, if possible?  Have you ever done "factory sewing" for your own wardrobe?